Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes

Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes

Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes

Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes

Synopsis

This book presents a large collection of anecdotes and jokes from different periods of the twentieth century to provide an unusual perspective on Soviet and Russian history.

Excerpt

They say that if you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny. But what if the joke does the explaining? What if jokes in all their intricacies contain valuable information and nuances about the culture that spawned them? Then they might be worth telling for what they can teach us. If we're lucky, clichés notwithstanding, laughter can follow understanding. As a teacher of Russian history and culture, I have been telling Soviet anecdotes to my students for many years in the hope that they would not only leaven a grim history with humor but also teach some of that history.

These attempts have met with mixed success. Not long ago I taught a course in Russian and Soviet Culture. The semester before I had taught my standard survey of Modern Russian History. Whenever I told an anecdote in the culture class by way of illustrating some point or other, the reaction was the same. The one Russian emigré laughed immediately, enjoying the joke itself and, often, the familiarity of a story heard before. A beat or two after him, the several students who had attended the previous semester's course caught on and joined in. The rest of the class just sat there. (If they'd done their assigned readings, their reaction might have been different!) Finally I would explain the joke and they would get it, but by then it was usually too late for laughter. I asked them late in the semester if they had gotten anything out of the anecdotes. Unanimously they agreed they had, and, finally understanding the context, they were ready to laugh at some retellings.

In my classes I learned that anecdotes were most successful if I told them after we had discussed or I had explained the current topic, be it the Lenin cult, propaganda, de-Stalinization, or anti-Semitism. That is the approach I will follow in this book. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history of the Soviet Union. I hope to explain just enough of the history of a period or of a particular topic to make the jokes comprehensible and then let them speak for themselves. Nor is this a balanced account of the events it describes. The nature of anecdotes determines that this will be an unbalanced, negative account of Soviet history; the anecdotes satirize, parody, and otherwise savage the individuals and topics they address.

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